Expository Preaching

No Condemnation in Christ Jesus! (Exposition of Romans 8:1-4)

The following sermon was preached at Farmdale Baptist Church on Sunday, July 19, 2009.  Audio available here.
It’s not hard to imagine, given what we’ve all seen on the news in recent days, a home that has survived the hurricane and the flood waters and is still standing. But upon examination by an engineer it is found to have structural damage beyond repair. Therefore, this apparently safe home is ruled unsafe and scheduled for demolition. Likewise, we as individual humans have been examined by a holy God and have been found to have structural integrity problems. We are sinners by nature and by choice. Therefore we are scheduled for eternal damnation.

How may we escape the certain judgment that will surely and most deservedly befall us? Romans 8 begins with these great words of comfort: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”. How is this possible? The apostle Paul describes to us in the first four verses the essence of the objective work of God in Christ and three important results thereof which culminates in the declaration in verse 1 of “no condemnation”!

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

First, let’s examine the objective work of God in Christ described in verse three. Paul says, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” What could the law not do? It cannot justify (i.e., forgive sin and impute righteousness). As Romans 3:20 states, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” According to Galatians 3:21, “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” Likewise the author to the Hebrews cofirms that “the law made nothing perfect” (Hebrews 7:19). Yes, the law cannot justify you and it’s your fault! Paul explains the failure of the law as a result of the weakness of the flesh. The problem is not with the character of the law. The problem is that you and I are unable to keep the law.

So, God has done the humanly impossible. How did He do this? By “sending His own Son”! What amazing love of God! John says in 1 John 4:9-10,

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (See also John 3:16)

He sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh”. Notice how carefully this is worded. He doesn’t say in the likeness of flesh, which would imply He was not fully human. Nor does he say in sinful flesh, which would imply that He was sinful. But Jesus is described as being sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” This means that He was fully human without sin.

He sent His Son “for sin”, i.e. as a sacrifice for sin and by His death “condemned sin in the flesh” of Christ! On the cross God condemned our sin in the flesh of Christ! This is the objective work of God that has been accomplished in Christ on the Cross. It has three important results. These results are found in vv. 4, 2 and 1. We will examine them in this order and conclude with Paul’s famous declaration of “no condemnation.”

I. The Righteous Requirement of the Law Has Been Fulfilled, v. 4.
The first result of the objective work of God in Christ is that the righteous requirement of the law has been fulfilled in us. What does the phrase “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” mean? There are two popular interpretations. The first is that we receive the righteousness of Christ imputed to us as believers as a result of the obedient life and death of Christ. This is certainly true and taught clearly elsewhere in Scripture (see Romans 5:16-21), but I don’t believe this is what Paul is teaching in this particular verse.

Another view is to see this “righteousness of the law” as the moral actions of believers with a new heart controlled by the Spirit. I believe this is taught elsewhere in Scripture as well (see Hebrews 8:1-13), but again I don’t believe it is being taught in this particular verse.

Instead, I believe “the righteousness of the law” is the righteous penalty which the law requires, namely death. In the death of Christ, the righteous penalty has been paid. Since we as believers are united to Him in His death and resurrection, the righteousness of the law has been fulfilled in us.

In other words, because the law could not justify us, God sent His Son in human flesh, condemned our sin in His flesh, in order to fulfil the righteous penalty which the law requires for us, by His death.

II. We Have Been Set Free From the Law of Sin and Death, v. 2.
The second result of the objective work of God in Christ is that we have been set free from the law of sin and death. In verse two we are told that the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has set us free from the “law of sin and death.” That sounds good, but what does it mean? What is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” and what is the “law of sin and death”? I agree with Octavius Winslow who, in his classic work on Romans 8 titled No Condemnation in Christ Jesus, argues that the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is equivalent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (or New Covenant) and the “law of sin and death” is equivalent to the Mosaic Law (or Old Covenant). Thus, verse two can be reworded to say: The “Gospel of Jesus Christ” has made me free from the “Mosaic law”.

I believe that this verse is a restatement of Paul’s argument in Romans 7:1-6. A woman whose husband dies is free to remarry. We have died with Christ and have been set free from the law. We have been resurrected with Christ in order to be remarried to the resurrected Christ. We are free from the law’s penalty and power.

To summarize Paul’s argument to this point: We’ve been set free from the Mosaic law (v. 2), because the law’s penalty has been paid (v. 4). This happened when God condemned sin in the flesh of Christ(v. 3)!

III. There is Now No Condemnation in Christ Jesus, v. 1.
The end result of the objective work of God for us in Christ is that there is now no condemnation! The word “condemnation” means a judicial pronouncement upon a guilty person. It is a declaration of guilt in a courtroom. This word also contains the idea of punishment. It is the very opposite of justification. If justification means to be declared “not guilty” then condemnation means to be declared “guilty” before the tribunal of God. Back to the analogy of a condemned house, when a house is condemned it is no longer habitable and is scheduled for destruction. Likewise a person condemned before God is already condemned and is destined for hell fire. But the good news for the believer who is in Christ Jesus is “there is now no condemnation!” In Christ we died, in Christ we live, therefore in Christ there is no condemnation!

There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (v. 1) because we have been set free from the Mosaic Law’s rules and regulations (v. 2), the righteous penalty of the law has been fulfilled in the death of Christ (v. 4) where our sin was already condemned in the flesh of Jesus on the cross (v. 3).

This is why Paul preached to the Antiochenes in Acts 13:38-39,

Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

How is this possible? Paul spells it out for us in a crystal clear manner in Galatians 3:13,

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

Paul here quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” This was revealed by God to Moses thousands of years before the Roman Empire even existed. Who knew (but God) that the Roman’s main method of execution would be by hanging people on trees (crosses)?!? Christ bore our curse so we could escape the curse. God pronounced “condemnation” upon His own Son, so that He might pronounce “no condemnation” upon the believeing sinner. God declared His Son to be “guilty” in order that you and I might be declared “not guilty”! The Son of God was executed that we might have eternal life!

The question is: Are you “in Christ Jesus”? The blessed promise of “no condemnation” is only extended to those who are “in Christ Jesus”. So, are you in Christ Jesus? How do you know? Well, the Bible teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Are you a new creature? Have old things passed away? Have all things become new?

Jesus said in John 3:18,

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Paul urges his Corinthian readers in 2 Corinthians 13:5,

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

An Arab chief tells a story of a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door. As the moment for execution drew near, the spy was brought to the Persian general, who asked the question, “What will it be: the firing squad or the big, black door?”

The spy hesitated for a long time. It was a difficult decision. He chose the firing squad.

Moments later shots rang out confirming his execution. The general turned to his aide who asked, “What lies beyond the big door?”

“Freedom,” replied the general. “I’ve known only a few brave enough to take it.”
Don McCullough, “Reasons to Fear Easter,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 116.

If you’ve never turned from your sin to trust in Christ, there is a choice before you today. There is before you the firing squad of condemnation or the blood stained cross of the Savior. Which will you choose? Turn to Christ, trust in what God has done for you through Christ that you might be able to sing with us:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing love, how can it be?
That thou, my God, should’st die for me!

Book Recommendation: Doctrine that Dances

In his new book on preaching, Doctrine that Dances: Bringing Doctrinal Preaching and Teaching to Life, Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. argues for doctrinal preaching from a fresh perspective. Using the metaphors from dance of a Doxological Dancer and an Exegetical Escort (again, please think dancing!), Dr. Smith argues for a union of both sound doctrine and joyful exultation in preaching. Dr. Smith serves as professor of Christian preaching at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL and he has given lectures on preaching at numerous evangelical theological seminaries. In fact, I first became familiar with Dr. Smith’s paradigm for preaching while listening online to lectures on the theme which he gave at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 2006 Power in the Pulpit conference. This theme was more fully developed in Dr. Smith’s lectures on preaching delivered on the campus of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fall of 2007 (scroll down to October 22, 2007). These lectures are a great introduction to the ideas of the book. They also enable the listener to hear the passion combined with doctrine that Dr. Smith argues so eloquently for in his book. But the substance of the argument for doctrinal preaching that dances is found in the book itself. It is refreshing to see this call for sound doctrinal preaching published by Broadman and Holman. It is especially refreshing to read such a balanced appeal for both truth and passion in preaching. Doctrine that Dances is the 2008 Preaching Magazine Book of the Year. It has been endorsed by Christian leaders and great preachers such as Danny Akin and Warren Wiersbe. If you’re a preacher, you will benefit from reading this volume.

Baptist Press article about Doctrine that Dances.

Order Doctrine that Dances from Amazon.com.

Order Doctrine that Dances from the publisher.

Recommended Links for Recommended Commentaries

I’m often asked for recommendations for commentaries on specific books of the Bible. Of course, D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey (6th Edition) and Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey (4th Edition) remain the best sources in print. But after being asked about recommended commentaries on Philippians today, I did a quick search for online lists of recommended commentaries. Below are the results of that search. If you know of other lists which are online, please email them to me or comment below and I will add them to this list. I know that this list is not exhaustive (yet), but it should serve as a good starting place for finding the best commentaries.

The Perfection Which the King Requires (Exposition of Matthew 5:48)

The question is often asked, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” But a more appropriate question biblically is, “How can a holy God send anyone to heaven?” This is a question that is raised by Jesus’ words in the last verse of Matthew 5 where the King demands, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

I. The Perfection Which God Possesses.
Jesus simply states in verse 48 that God the Father is perfect, “as your Father in heaven is perfect.” The perfection of God is an attribute of God which summarizes all His other attributes, i.e., His love is a perfect love, His holiness is a perfect holiness, His grace is a perfect grace, His wrath is a perfect wrath, etc. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology (p. 218) defines God’s perfection as follows:

God’s perfection means that God completely possesses all excellent qualities and lacks no part of any qualities that would be desirable for him.

Another way to speak of God’s perfection is to speak of His holiness or His righteousness. These terms refer to the moral perfection of God. He is completely or wholly other. He is the standard of all morality and righteousness.

The prophet Isaiah was overwhelmed by the moral perfection of God’s holiness when he saw the LORD in the temple when King Uzziah died in Isaiah 6. After seeing the One whom the angelic beings called seraphims worshiped by crying out to each other, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts.”, Isaiah cried out in horror, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” In Ezekiel 43, the LORD appeared to the prophet Ezekiel and the prophet fell on his face! This gives us an idea of the degree of perfection which God possesses that even the holiest of men are scandalized in His presence. The God who sits enthroned in heaven is perfect!

II. The Perfection Which God Requires.
But not only do we see the perfection which God possesses in verse 48, we also see the perfection which God requires! “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” This is a high standard, an impossible standard! But this command issued by King Jesus in verse 48 echoes that which is found three times in the book of Leviticus (11:44, 19:2, and 20:26) and quoted by the apostle Peter (1 Pet. 1:16). In the words of Leviticus 19:2 that command is, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” The author of Hebrews likewise holds forth this high standard when he wrote, “Pursue … holiness without which no one will see the Lord:” (Heb. 12:14).

The greatest example of what Jesus means when He demands perfection of His followers is in the context itself. Beginning in verse 20, Jesus has described in this section of His Sermon on the Mount the degree of righteousness which He requires of His followers who would be a part of His kingdom. Their righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees! This was no small task, for the scribes and Pharisees were the most outwardly righteous of their day. But it was only an outward righteousness. There was outward conformity to the law of God, but no inward obedience. This is the difference between the scribes and Pharisees and those who are a part of Christ’s New Covenant community. It is illustrated in the six antitheses which fill the space between verse 20 and this morning’s text, verse 48. In those 27 verses Jesus both exposes the false righteousness of the Pharisees and illustrates the true righteousness that is the characteristic of those whom He calls His disciples. This is the perfection which the King requires. Not mere external obedience, but inward conformity to God’s laws. It is not enough to not murder, one cannot be angry. It is not enough not to commit adultery, one must not lust. It is not enough to love one’s neighbors, one must also love one’s enemies. This is the high standard which is required to enter heaven. This is a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and is nothing less than God’s own perfection. It is an impossible standard!

III. The Perfection Which God Provides.
If Matthew 5:48 were all that we knew, we would be totally without hope! That would be the ultimate bad news, but there is good news. The gospel message is that the perfection which God both possesses and requires, He also graciously provides through the person and work of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This perfection is supplied by God to the believing sinner in three ways: positionally, practically, and permanently.

First, Scripture teaches that God provides the righteousness of Christ to the believing sinner positionally. This is the doctrine of justification by faith alone which states that God forgives sin and declares the sinner righteous on the basis of the life and death of Jesus by faith alone. In other words, the moment that a sinner truly trusts in Christ’s finished work on the cross, his/her sins are forgiven and they are seen to be sinlessly perfect in the eyes of God. This is because God has credited the sinner’s sin to Jesus, while crediting Jesus’ righteousness to the sinner. The justified are now treated just as if they were as perfect as Jesus Himself, who never sinned! (Rom. 5:1; 2 Cor. 5:21; and 1 Pet. 3:18).

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, the day when we remember those soldiers who have died in the service of our country. The Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated on November 13, 1982, honoring the 58,000 American troops who died in that conflict. In 1966, Marine Sergeant George Hutchings of 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division, Charlie Company, had over two hundred men killed around him during an ambush by the Viet Cong. Months later, after numerous battles, he was shot three times, bayoneted and left for dead, but he survived and was awarded the Purple Heart. Speaking about the Vietnam Memorial, George Hutchings said: “On that wall is the name of Corporal Quinton Bice, who was hit in the chest with a rocket running a patrol in my place. A Christian, he had shared the Gospel with me, but I didn’t understand it till he gave his life in my place.”

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ took the rocket of God’s holy judgment upon sin in the place of all who believe. This is how God is able to forgive our sins and declare us to be perfect in His eyes.

Not only does God provide righteousness positionally, Scripture teaches that God provides the righteousness of Christ to the believing sinner practically. This is the doctrine of sanctification which states that all whose whom God has justified by faith, He begins to work in them to produce a righteousness of heart and action. Whereas justification is immediate, sanctification is a progressive or gradual work of God. It is God’s work of making us in this life into what He has already declared us to be: righteous. This is why there are commands in Scripture which call the believer to holiness in life.

1Peter 1:13-16 Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 14 as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 15 but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”

Hebrews 12:14 Pursue … holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:

If this pursuit of holiness is not a characteristic of your life, then you have not experienced God’s salvation. Because God’s salvation involves not only the forgiveness of sin, but also the changing of the sinner into the image of Christ.

Not only does God provide righteousness positionally and practically, Scripture also teaches that God provides righteousness to the believing sinner permanently. This is the doctrine of glorification which states that at the return of Christ our bodies which are now plagued by sin and sickness will be transformed into perfectly sinless bodies without the effects of sin: sickness and death.

Philippians 3:20-21 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

1John 3:2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Romans 8:28-30 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Thus, we see that the perfection which God possesses and requires, He freely provides by faith in Christ to the believer! This how a holy God sends anyone to heaven. There is no other way!

“Power in the Pulpit” Conference on Expository Preaching

Tonight following our evening service, I am headed to the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY for the “Power in the Pulpit” conference which being held tomorrow. This year’s conference will be taught by Southern Seminary’s own: Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. and Dr. Hershael W. York. They will be joined by Dr. Jim Shaddix, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado and author of two books, Power in the Pulpit with Jerry Vines, and The Passion Driven Sermon.

I will be accompanied by three “young” preachers from our church. God has graciously gifted our small church with several “young” (some are older than I) preachers who are committed to a biblical theology and the task of expository preaching. I’m thankful to God for them! Please pray for us that we will each learn from the conference. I suspect my brothers may have just wanted me to go in order that I can get some help!

For those who would like to attend a conference like this but find yourself unable to do so, the audio from previous “Power in the Pulpit” conferences is available here. Previous speakers whose lectures are available online include Jerry Vines, Danny Akin, Robert Smith, Paige Patterson, and the late Stephen Olford.

The High Calling of Preaching

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Matthew 3:1-2

The word translated preaching in Matthew 3:1 is the word kerusson and means “to proclaim as a herald.” By choosing this word to describe the preaching of John, Matthew is emphasizing John’s role as a herald for the King. As a herald, one’s authority comes from the content of the message and not from the messenger himself. He was not composing his own messages, but simply declaring the message of the King. This continues to be the role of Christian preachers. Namely, to declare the Word of God and not one’s own opinion. The best preaching, in fact the only preaching, is that which faithfully explains what God has already spoken.

In John’s example we can also see the primacy of preaching. Throughout the history of the church, preaching has been the primary way of communicating God’s truth to God’s people. In Matthew, John came preaching, Jesus came preaching, the disciples were sent preaching. In the book of Acts, Peter and Paul both preach. In church history, Augustine was a preacher, Chrysostom was a preacher, John Calvin and Martin Luther were above all else preachers, Charles Spurgeon was a preacher, D.L. Moody was a preacher, W.A. Criswell and Adrian Rogers were preachers, John MacArthur and John Piper are preachers! Whatever else the world may need, no need is greater than for God-called preachers to declare the same message as John the Baptist:“The King has come!”

Hercules Collins on “How to Prepare a Sermon”

The following selection is from Hercules Collins, The Temple Repair’d: or, An Essay to Revive the Long-Neglected Ordinances, of Exercising the Spiritual Gift of Prophecy for the Edification of the Churches; and of Ordaining Ministers Duly Qualified (London: 1702), 25-26.

To what I have said I shall add some further helps by way of direction and instruction to those that are inclined to the ministration of the gospel. Consider my whole method in speaking, 1. To the Penman of the Epistle. 2. To the Time when written. 3. The Occasion. 4. The Scope. Not that there will be always need upon every subject to take notice of these things, yet upon some subjects there may be need to take notice of some or all of them. Secondly, consider how your text coheres and depends upon what goes before it, but stand no longer upon it than what may make your way plain to the text. Some have spent so much time upon a context, that by that time they came to their text the hour was almost gone, though they did not know whether they should preach in the same place again. Thirdly, make an exact division of your text, if your text calls you to it, for that will be profitable in the helping of you to matter[1]. Fourthly, explain any difficult terms, but spend not time needlessly in explanation, if things are easily understood without it. Fifthly, raise as many doctrines as the text will allow, and make what good use you can of every one of them, but insist most on the chief scope of the place. Sixthly, your doctrine being laid down, prove it from the Word of God by two or three Scriptures at most; because in the mouth of two or three witnesses every truth is established.[2] After you have proved it, then lay down the reasons and arguments of the point why and wherefore it is so. … Some persons lay down some propositions just after their doctrine. But whatever is done in that, may be done in an use of instruction. But that is at your liberty, whether you will do it in propositions, or an use of instruction. And then, what use you make, let it be always natural from the doctrine, and draw as many inferences from it as it will bear; for they are generally very divine things. Mark one thing, that all doctrines will not afford the same uses. There is, (1.) The Use of Information. (2.) Caution. (3.) Trial and Examination. (4.) Refutation. (5.) Instruction. (6.) Reprehension. (7.) Exhortation, with its motives and directions. (8.) Admiration. (9.) Consolation. Now you must consider which of all these, or any other uses, will be most naturally handled from your doctrine.

[1] i.e., the main subject treated

[2] See Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; and, 2 Corinthians 13:1